August 3, 2008

"No Real Solution" -- Arnold Schwarzenegger's Algebra for Dummies

My new VDARE.com column expands on a long-term topic -- how political correctness about ignoring differences in intelligence winds up hurting the people it's nominally supposed to protect. I take a look at something I'd touched on a few weeks ago -- Gov. Schwarzenegger's new mandate that every single 8th grader in California's public schools must take algebra by 8th grade (95% new material, including some decent jokes).

Like so many politically correct ideas, accelerating math to overcome the soft bigotry of low expectations ends up helping the smart people and hurting the not smart people.

I took Algebra I in 9th grade in a Catholic high school. My son took it in 7th grade in an LA public middle school a few years ago. He did fine in it. But moving the left half of the bell curve up to taking algebra in 8th grade instead of 9th isn't going to do anybody any good.

Read it here.
My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

17 comments:

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: It's time to stop worrying about eliminating group differences - and start worrying about helping all students achieve as much of their potential as feasible.

Uhh, what if their "potential" is...

...

...

NOTHING?!?

More than half of all the children in California today come out of groups whose average IQs are no higher than 85 - i.e., on average, they are ineducable - they can't learn the three R's [much less Algebra I] because they're just too stupid.

Frankly, what "it's time" for is to admit that the situation is hopeless, and to start searching for an exit [& survival] strategy.

bp said...

Out of curiosity, what is the progression of math classes through high school if students take algebra in the 8th grade?

8th - Algebra I
9th - Geometry
10th - Algebra II
11th - Pre-Calculus ???
12th - Calculus ???

This was what it was for my high school, with only about 25 students in a class of 250 being on this track. Even then, most of the students struggled in Calc, although senior-itis probably had something to do with this too...

testing99 said...

Culture and discipline matter. Before the educational reforms, Black children did learn and performed well enough to power most of the factory work in the South and much of Detroit.

Ironically, there's lots of rough algebra in all those "Dirty Jobs" or "LA Hardhats" stuff on Discovery, National Geographic, and History Channel.

Karl Rove may not want his son doing manual labor but TV audiences seem fascinated by it and the men, mostly blue collar but very masculine men, who do the labor.

Anonymous said...

The international standard is for 8th graders to take algebra. I guess we can all confess that Americans just can't keep up with Europeans and Asians. Our kids aren't as smart as kids growing up in Sweden? I doubt it.

Personally, I believe the poor elementary math education most of our kids get, plus a lousy work ethic, explain the situation. We aren't as serious about math and education as we are about soccer and football and guitar hero. Our kids have better things to do with their time that waste it learning math. So they don't. Hours on TV and video games and sports.

Teach your kids to work hard, and they'll excel at math. But that's not something most teachers or parents want to hear.

c23 said...

What about physical education? Every child should be benching 400 pounds by 10th grade, like Arnold did. We don't want to hurt our kids' self-esteem by putting insultingly low weights on the bar.

Martin said...

"testing99 said...

Black children did learn and performed well enough to power most of the factory work in the South and much of Detroit."

Huh? Most blacks in the south were rural dwellers. The factory jobs were mostly held by whites. You really don't know what the hell you're talking about, do you, Testing99? Your writings seem completely unfettered by any mere consideration of fact.

Schwarzenegger has turned out to be remarkably doctrinaire for a politician with such an unusual pedigree. I understand that his latest attempt to meet the state's current bills is to issue bonds secured by revenue from the state's lottery. Well, that's creative. I'm sure nothing could go wrong with that.

AllanF said...

A cynic might think this is coming from the home-builder lobby. It used to be one could protect one's children from the riff-raff by getting them tracked into the advanced/smart classes in the public school. If the advanced track is now the only track, it is even more necessary for parents of smart kids to live in good school ditricts.

And owing to the dynamics of affordable family formation, I expect the red/blue divide in California to get even more stark: liberal DINKS in LA & SF, upper-class white collar professionals in OC & Silicon Valley, working class whites in the hinterlands.

Bert Rustle said...

Where does Schwarzenegger and the other proponents of Reality Denial educate their own children? Are their children privately educated? Do private schools practice Reality Denial?

John Mansfield said...

Regarding what math classes a high school student can take, I had five years of math: Algebra I in 9th grade, Algebra II and Geometry simultaneously in 10th grade, one semester of trigonometry followed by one semester of probability and statistics in 11th grade, and analytical geometry in 12th grade. My high school didn't teach calculus. Analytical geometry was things like taking the geometric definition of a conic section ("A parabola is a set of points equidistant from a line and a point."), and showing that an algebraic expression fit the bill ("y=x^2/(4p) is a parabola with a focus at (0,p) and a directix at x = -p".).

This was at a high school that didn't teach calculus or any AP classes, but that was good enough in the 1980s to get a full-tuition scholarship at a decent college and graduate with a double major in mechanical engineering and math. I wish today's bright teenagers could drop a few AP classes and rub shoulders in shop class with the rest of the student body.

Gavin said...

What can go wrong?
1. Algebra gets dumbed down - easier for teachers
2. Lot of failed students - more money for teachers to 'help' them.
Either way the teachers union wins. Why should they care about success when failure is so profitable for them?

Saladman said...

More than half of all the children in California today come out of groups whose average IQs are no higher than 85 - i.e., on average, they are ineducable - they can't learn the three R's [much less Algebra I] because they're just too stupid.

Actually, this is not the case at all. We do know how to educate these students: with intensive old-school phonics, memorization, and math courses that stick to a schedule that builds on previous mastery and doesn't skip ahead or leave anything out. Unfortunately, to do this right would require seperating students by skill level, and that might be politically incorrect.

When you get into education literature enough, you find a very serious argument that our school system's current literacy and graduation rates don't reflect any particular success in teaching, just the base rate of literacy you would expect reasonably bright children to pick up on their own, regardless of what instruction they receive. Whether you accept that or not, you can't make plans for a succesful school system by modeling your assumptions on a failed one. Not when we know that minority and general literacy has historically been higher than it is now.

The fact is that as much polite society may snicker at the words "90 IQ," an IQ of 85-90 is within the lower range of the average of the fat part of the bell curve where 50% of the population falls. Such people were productive, self-supporting citizens until recently in history. Some people are going to be genuine institutional or charity cases, but if society starts drawing that line at the 25th percentile mark of the IQ of the general native born population, we're going to have some heavy costs to bear. Which is part of the problem we're already seeing.

The problems are that the nuts and bolts of schooling has been captured by the teacher's unions and education bureaucracy, who are insulated from any requirement to get real results. And the guiding policy of schooling has been captured by the elitist attitude displayed by Bill Gates when he said "every child deserves a first class college education," which is false on its face. Somebody with a 93 IQ and a mechanical aptitude could be ruined by college but have his livelihood made by plumber's school.

albertosaurus said...

The education problem is not very serious in the sense that we know how to solve it but we refuse to do so for other reasons. Some other more serious problems can't be solved because we don't actually know how.

Let's call the first type of problem Type I and the second Type II.

A typical Type I problem is your father gets Alzheimers. You want to give him the pill that cures it but no one knows what should be in that pill. Some day we will know how the make that pill (or that machine) but not today.

An example of a Type II problem would be fixing the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Discovery Channel routinely shows the latest high tech remedies for this engineering conumdrum. They show lasers, cables, couterweights and all sorts of high tech gimcracks. If you didn't think about it very hard you would wonder how the renaisance Italians had ever managed to build the damn thing in the first place.

Of course no medieval or ancient builder would see it as a problem at all. You just take the stones down, build a better fondation and then put them back. A dozen workmen with a notebook and a magic marker could do it in a couple months.

We have known how to educate children for centuries. Everyone has stories about how earlier children learned more. If we aren't doing that today it's not because the knowledge has been lost, we have just chosen to define a simple problem in a way that makes it difficult - like fixing the Tower of Pisa.

Martin said...

"John Mansfield said...

I wish today's bright teenagers could drop a few AP classes and rub shoulders in shop class with the rest of the student body."

Here, here. They might develop some appreciation for physical labor, rather than go straight in the cube-farm. Ever ask a high-school student today what they want to study? It seems the answer is always "international relations". What the devil is "international relations" anyway? The only real kind I'm aware of is what they teach at Annapolis and West Point.

Anonymous said...

if society starts drawing that line at the 25th percentile mark of the IQ of the general native born population, we're going to have some heavy costs to bear.

It's not society that's drawing that line, but rather technology.

The kinds of things that low IQ people can do are the kinds of things that are quickly being automated out of existence. All else being equal, the less intelligence a task requires, the easier it is to automate.

The key point is that those previous eras did not have the standard of living that we have today. For example, we wouldn't have the variety of foods we have at the supermarket if farming was still done by technologically naive yeoman farmers.

People who attack this and call for a return to a "simpler way of life" are like the liberals who call for a gas tax. Sounds righteous on paper -- until you actually have to pay the price, which means intentionally reducing the quality of life of millions of people.

Lucius Vorenus said...

You people who think that children with IQs of 85 are educable, or are capable of growing up to have "productive" careers in a high-tech economy, are simply insane - you're worse than fools - you're absolutely delusional.

The VERY BEST possible outcome for a child with an IQ of 85 is to grow up to be a sober, reliable, punctual janitor, who cleans most [but not all] of the toilets and mops most [but not all] of the floors which have been assigned to him on his shift.

That's it - a janitor.

Not a bus driver, not a carpenter, not a plumber, AND GOD FORBID, not an electrician.

A JANITOR.

That's the best outcome.

The more likely outcome is crack/meth addict, on permanent disability, with 10 or 15 bastard spawn around town who will grow up to be just like him.

Again: Face it, the situation is HOPELESS.

Truth said...

"The VERY BEST possible outcome for a child with an IQ of 85 is to grow up to be a sober, reliable, punctual janitor..."

Lucius, it's not that bad, other than that one fiasco with the amonia and the HVAC system, you've actually done a pretty good job

Anonymous said...


Not a bus driver, not a carpenter, not a plumber, AND GOD FORBID, not an electrician.
A JANITOR

I disagree with the bus driver and plumber - It doesn't take much IQ to do those things.